I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Review: Dungeon Grappling RPG Supplement

The Dungeon Grappling RPG Supplement is exactly what it says on the thin: a supplement for adding (or "fixing") grappling for D&D - more specifically, for Swords & Wizardry, Pathfinder and 5e. The three system are explicitly supported with numbers and stat-blocks, but the book is probably useful for any version of D&D (and most RPGs, really). It is a 53-page (including cover, OGL, etc.) full-color PDF, that was successfully kickstarted and is available on DTRPG* (check the previews!) and also here.

This review will focus on the S&W / 5e parts, as I'm not much familiar with Pathfinder. Suffice to say, as far as I can remember from Pathfinder, this book would be a great addition not to add options, but to vastly simplify and rationalize things.

It was written by Douglas Cole, the author of GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling. I think this fact is worth mention because, as far as Dungeon Grappling is concerned, Douglas seems to really know the subject. Dungeon Grappling is, for the lack of a better word, quite realistic (although not overly detailed) in its portrayal of grappling. Which means, among other things, that grappling can be more efficient than punches, can put the attacker in a bad position even if his adversary is worse off, allows for interesting choices (improving one's position, causing damage, disarming, etc, are all possible choices), and so on.

Cover by Michael Clarke

The art is also very impressive for a relatively small project. The cover art from Michael Clarke looks amazing, and the book is filled with color illustrations from various amazing artists. Full disclosure: one of them, Rick Troula, is a friend of mine and the main artist in my own upcoming RPG, Days of the Damned (he is also the author of the most awesome image in the book, in my opinion, featured below so you can judge for yourself - in any case, all art in this book looks great).

In fact, if something bad can be said about the art is that some pieces that were shown on the previews seem a bit underutilized; some good looking pictures are very small in the book, which doesn't detract form the whole thing, really. The design is also good looking overall and easy on the eyes (not only good looking but easy to read).

The system itself was more interesting that I had expected from the previews, that seemed to indicate something a bit more complex. In fact, Dungeon Grappling has some options that are too detailed for my tastes; fortunately, it also has very straightforward alternative to these options, using simple conditions instead of "grappling points". The supplement is very well written, which makes the ideas easier to get in a first reading. Support for three different versions of D&D adds some confusion, but it can be easily avoided if you only focus on the system you want.

As far as balance goes, Dungeon Grappling doesn't maintain strict conformity to 5e's or S&W's rules. Some options put a great emphasis on Strength over other abilities (which makes sense, and it's a good thing in my opinion, specially for 5e) and size or proficiency bonus over HD and CR. Grappling can often function as a shortcut for strong creatures to bypass usual protections - as it should be, in my opinion. The book acknowledges such questions but doesn't dwell on it too much, playing fast and loose with some suggestions ("you could do it this way, but also this other way if you prefer", etc.).

In any case, S&W's and 5e's means of "balancing encounters" are not that important or reliable, and I honestly don't care that they are affect if that is the price for making fights exponentially more fun, which Dungeon Grappling potentially does.

I think it is fair to mention that the Kickstarter went really well and the PDF was delivered earlier than promised.

art by Rick Troula.

Overall, I am impressed with the work. Most problems I've noticed were fixed by turning the page - literally. "Wouldn't it be better if...?", "Oh, okay"; "But what about ...?", "I see, he thought of that too". The author has provided multiple options for most mechanics - for example, when I wrote about Fifth Edition stunts, I mentioned some ups and down of using  using damage as a gauge of effectiveness instead of skill contests, and Douglas provides both options.

The book includes grappling for characters, monsters, spells, etc. It considers monks, thieves and other classes; it mentions using weapons when grappling and taking them from your enemy. In short, Dungeon Grappling has all I could expect from a book like this. I would recommend it for anyone wanting to add more grappling to a 5e or S&W / OSR game.

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  1. As I said on G+, thanks for the review.

    And with respect to the art, I have an idea in mind about that.

  2. (since pre-orders are closed, perhaps change the link to the DTRPG site, or even my own? https://gamingballistic.com/shop/ )